Miscellaneous Ramblings

11 Free and Low Cost Alternatives to .mac for Email

Charles Moore - 2003.09.22 - Tip Jar

Reader Chris Long writes:

Since it's now about the time that most ".mac" users (incl. me) will have to decide whether to pony up $100 for another year - or not - Mebbe U should be writing up a li'l column on alternatives, eh? I myself still wonder whether I should attempt the email address switch, once again.

A timely topic to revisit. Many folks who signed up for Apple's half-price offer for a year of .mac service when the former, free iTools service was terminated last year are, like Chris, now faced with the decision of whether to pony up $100 for another year of service or look elsewhere.

Personally, I thought even $50 was steep for someone like me on a slow dialup connection who would get little or no useful benefit from .mac other than an email address. I let my mac.com email addresses lapse at the cutoff date for the free service last September.

On the other hand, if you're on broadband, or perhaps an urban dialup service with decent throughput, it's up to you to determine whether what you get from .mac for $100 a year is a good value.

If you think not and/or if email service is primarily what you're interested in, there are several free or cheap alternatives to .mac.

There are dozens - maybe hundreds - of free Webmail services available. Web-based email can be convenient if you travel a lot or need to access your mail from computers you don't own, because you can use any computer, anywhere in the world that has Internet access.

However, for day-in-day-out email management, most people will find using a POP3 email client like OS X Mail, Eudora, or any one of about a dozen others available for the Mac much more convenient. For dialup users, the ability to access one's email files without going online and to download email to ones hard drive to open and read later while offline is a near necessity, at least if you deal with a substantial volume of mail.

Most of us get one POP3 email account included with our ISP account, but I would hate to have to get along with just one email account. I have about 20, which is perhaps the other extreme, but I find it more convenient to have lots of email options.

Happily, there are still quite a few free or inexpensive POP3 email services available. Many also give you the choice of accessing your inbox through a Webmail interface with a browser as well as POP3 access - the best of both worlds. Here's a representative sampling of what's offered.

MacMail

If you would like to have a free email address with "mac" in it, check out MacMail, a worldwide UK-based ambidextrous webmail/POP3 email service where your address will be "username@macmail.com."

The downside with MacMail is that there is no SMTP support, so you have to use your ISP's outgoing email server to send mail from your email client. This works with some ISPs but not others (mine for instance).

FireMail

While the excellent German GMX email service has stopped accepting new signups outside German-speaking Europe, FireMail is another very professional free email service from Germany that North Americans can still sign up for, and it offers both SMTP and POP3 support

Note well that the signup information and procedure is entirely in German, so you might want use one of the online translation services.

Gawab

Egypt may seem like an unlikely place to find an email service provider. There is, in fact, a very good one based there called Gawab.com, which offers both webmail and POP/SMTP support. I've been using Gawab email for several months, and it has been completely reliable and very quick.

HotPOP

HotPOP is a free POP3 email service based in Newton, Massachusetts. Founded in 1998, HotPOP offers email accounts, from various domains, as well as SMTP Access (you have to check your email first). You may include up to 50 recipients on a single message. There is also Web access to your HotPOP account, a limit of 500 KB per message, and a maximum of 1,000 incoming email messages per day.

I've had a HotPOP account for a couple of years. It has been quite reliable, although the POP before sending feature is sometimes a bit cranky and sluggish, requiring several email checks before your outgoing message will send.

MyRealBox

MyRealBox is a free email service from Novell that has been around for several years now and offers POP3 and SMTP service and well as webmail access to your account. It is one of the few free email services that will work with older email clients like Eudora Light that don't support SMTP authentication (you just have to check your email before sending).

One caveat about MyRealBox that is spelled out on their signup page is that because this is a permanent beta, there will sometimes be system timeouts. I haven't found this a big problem, but they went through a rough patch in late August, which has now been rectified.

SoftHome

SoftHome is another free email service that's been around for a while. I've had an account with them for about five years. There is also an upgraded for fee Professional service available.

SoftHome free personal email accounts are limited to 6 MB and 150 messages and a transfer limit of 10 MB/month. I've found that recently both the email server and the SMTP server are frequently slow to respond. Messages stored in the system for a period of time may expire and be deleted, and unused accounts are deactivated, although they can be reactivated from the homepage. Messages can be sent via SoftHome's SMTP service to a maximum of 10 recipients per email. Web access is also available.

Cwazy Email

Cwazy Email is based in Selby, North Yorkshire, UK, and was created in September 2001 to provide good quality free email for the Webmaster's friends and family. In early 2002, after quite a number of "friends of friends" requested accounts, Cwazy began offering accounts to the public.

Cwazy offers POP3 support and a choice of domain names, but there is no SMTP support for sending mail, so you have to use your ISP's SMTP server for sending (if they allow it for third party email accounts - mine doesn't).

Bonnag.com

Bonnag.com is a Web portal service maintained by Scott Pearse that offers free POP3, webmail, and email forwarding. SMTP is also supported for sending mail.

Applelinks

Applelinks offers a free webmail service that can also be upgraded to POP3 support (that you can access with an email client like OS X Mail or Eudora) for $19 per year.

The Mail

TheMail.com offers free webmail, but for 5¢ a day you can add an extra 10 MB of email space and POP3 access, merge mail, file manager, filters, and an autoresponder.

Select Mail

Select Mail offers free email, plus you can choose your own custom email address (e.g., username@yourchoice.com) so long as you select one special offer (e.g., a $6.95 Video Professor trial).

Features include POP3 and SMTP access and SpamShield that filters out junk email.

Regarding the custom domain name, you will be what is known as the domain registrant, the possessor of the domain name. Additional fees apply to transfer your domain name to a different registrar and/or modify your domain name record. Your own custom .com, .net, or .org email address. .biz and .info are available for an additional $9.99. You can use Select Mail with a domain name that you already own.

To renew your account after the first year, you'll receive a reminder before your anniversary to select another special offer (if available). At that time, you will also have the option to pay for Select Mail ($24.99 a year).

You may upgrade to 25 MB of total storage space and 10 MB file attachment handling for $19.99 (US) a year.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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